There is not much more esteemed at Wes than its history of activism. Wesleying’s Rage Updates are here to welcome you all to the issues of the day, and to educate you on the issues of the past. While it seems to have been an even year sort of update for Wesleying with our first article in 2014, our second in 2016, and our third in 2018, more than enough has happened this past school year to warrant another for 2019.
As a publication and a series steeped in tradition, we must open with the eloquent words of alt, the author of our first rage update:
You’ve now arrived on campus, and we hope that you find your time here enriching and transformative. In that hope, we feel that it would be ill-advised to allow you to not have at least a foundational understanding of the things that have forced us as a community into dialogue, disagreement, and action.
This is not to scare you or to give you a negative impression of the University. However, we are certain that most if not all of you were told about the “passion” that Wesleyan students have and the issues that we care about on campus are at the forefront of those passions. While there is certainly no requirement to take an activist stance on any of these issues and it is in fact easy to sink beneath the radar on these issues and all the others not covered here, we would plead with you to be engaged in the community that you are now a part of.
Read this, ask questions, and reach out to students and faculty that have been here before you. We hope that as you begin your time here, you fully invest yourself as a community member committed to making Wesleyan as good as it can be for you and for those after you. Caring about Wesleyan does not foreclose critique on Wesleyan and as you read this, and other things like it, we hope you understand that too.
Ending this intro with a disclaimer that this article is not comprehensive, and merely serves as a taster for the Wesleyan brand of fiery social justice.
Students and Custodians Allege Labor Violations against Wesleyan, Demands Five More Custodians be Hired
Since 2012, when Service Management Group (SMG)—formerly Sun Services—was contracted by the University for custodial labor, worker conditions have been deteriorating. After SMG won their bid for the contract, they promised to retain all current 60 workers. However, union members soon learned that SMG would circumvent this promise by not replacing the first ten workers who left the staff voluntarily, retired, or were fired with just cause.
Naturally, the remaining workers faced a significant increase in their workloads. However, downsizing is not the only reason for the increased responsibilities for custodial staff; the construction of frosh dorm Bennet Hall in 2005, Wesleyan’s acquisition of new houses and buildings, and the steady increase in the student population have also contributed to the strain placed on custodians.
Several formal and informal complaints have been raised against SMG, the most recent of which followed the firing of María Sarabia. In this case, a supervisor saw Sarabia sit to drink coffee to restore her blood sugar levels, and Sarabia was fired without severance.
The Wesleyan United Student Labor/Action Coalition (USLAC), a student labor activism group leading the charge against SMG and the administration, quickly took action and started a petition that gathered over 1000 signatures to get Sarabia her job back.
Currently, USLAC is advocating for the University to allow SMG to hire five more workers to alleviate heavy workloads.
In talking to custodial staff around campus, members of USLAC found that many workers can’t take their lunch breaks due to the amount of work they are expected to complete each shift. One person cleans the entirety of the Fauver Senior Apartments and Bennet, which used to be a two-person job before the staff changes were made. USLAC members also learned that a single worker is responsible for cleaning sophomore dorms Hewitt 8, 9, and 10, and that another employee’s individual responsibilities include cleaning the dorm WestCo, the dining place Summerfields, and student groceries shop Weshop and emptying the garbage from all Foss Hill dorm buildings, Bennet, and frosh dorm Clark on Sundays.
Instead of completing each one of their daily tasks, custodians must distribute the tasks involved in cleaning buildings throughout the week. A custodian might only be able to clean the staircases in their assigned buildings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and bathrooms on different days. However, Llano mentioned that custodians do not find this situation ideal.
In addition to the physical limitations of completing their assigned work, the relationship between SMG leadership and custodial staff has been strained ever since SMG won their contract bid. In 2013, the custodial staff wrote an open letter to President Roth detailing the increase in workloads and injustices they had experienced since SMG took over custodial operations.
On behalf of SMG and Physical Plant, the administration met with USLAC to propose solutions to the custodians’ complaints, but USLAC and some custodians have noted that the discrepancies between contract agreements and SMG practice have not been addressed. However, members of the administration are open to continuing discussions about the issues USLAC has brought up.
USLAC organized a series of protests and disruptions during WesFest to call attention to the unreasonable workloads of our school’s custodians and to demand that Wesleyan hire five more workers. (If you want to know more about the WesFest actions, the Argus did a great job covering them.)
Since WesFest, the administration has failed to take action on (or take seriously) the protesters’ demands and workers’ testimonies, citing data shared in an all-campus email from Chief Administrative Officer, and Treasurer Andy Tanaka on Wednesday, April 24 as justification. USLAC responded by sharing a point-by-point rebuttal of the “facts” presented in Tanaka’s email.
On Friday, April 19, Wesleyan students and custodians worked together to file a National Labor Relations Board charge against Service Management Group (SMG), a custodial services subcontractor, and Wesleyan University as joint employers. This occurred after custodians and students reviewed SMG’s corporate handbook and identified several violations of federal labor law, which include:
- forbidding workers from being on company or client property when not at work
- banning workers from complaining about working conditions to anyone outside of SMG
- banning workers from wearing pins or symbols representing political causes
- banning workers from using cell phones to take photos at work.
USLAC’s struggle shows no sign of slowing down, as the group continues to pressure the University to acknowledge and address the issue of unreasonable custodial workloads.